Cornerbacks: Here’s the tenth and final of a series of articles, looking specifically at the NFL combine and the Packers’ drafting tendencies. (Read here for the rationale for this series, here for quarterbacks, here for running backs, here for wide receivers, here for tight ends, here for offensive tackles, here for offensive interior linemen, here for defensive ends, here for outside linebackers, here for inside linebackers and here for cornerbacks). This article will use the combine numbers from previous players drafted by GM Ted Thompson as a guide for what safeties are likely to fit into the Packers’ scheme.
Again, this is merely an attempt to make a best guess based on statistics at which players the Packers might be interested in, game tape naturally trumps combine numbers, so take all of this with a grain of salt. But I believe it will make for some interesting discussion. Also listed below are also two safeties in this year’s draft who I think fit the Packers scheme the best, based on their combine numbers.
Statistics of safeties drafted by the Packers:
What the Packers are looking for: The safety position has recently become a hot commodity; up until a couple of years ago, the general consensus seemed to be that safeties were somewhere with guards in terms of importance, sure your team had to have them, but you’d never use a early pick on one.
”As a rule, safeties aren’t talked about going that high,” Devaney said. ”But this guy I think in everybody’s mind impacts the game. You try to get impact players, and Berry’s certainly one.” – St. Louis Rams General Manager Billy Devaney on Eric Berry, 2010
And it wasn’t just Eric Berry; just as the importance of cornerbacks has risen in response to the NFL becoming a passing league and shifting towards a more “spread” style of offense, the value of safeties has also risen.
GM Thompson hasn’t taken many players at safeties; even more ironic might be the fact that Kurt Campbell and Aaron Rouse might were more safety/coverage linebacker hybrids instead of the pure safety type of player. On top of that, the Packers have not drafted a “sledgehammer” safety in the Al Sanders/Atari Bigby mold to put 8 in the box and patrol for running backs. Instead the Packers have drafted two “ball hawks” in Nick Collins and Morgan Burnett, who are better at intercepting the ball than laying down big hits. And when you consider the current style of the NFL its easy to see why; running has proven to be unproductive in comparison to passing in the current mold of the NFL and with the new rules dictating player safety (most notably in terms of concussions), players now have to be wary of just destroying players. As such the Packers prefer to have two traditional “free safety” type players, where pass defense is put on a premium over run defense.
The drills that safeties have the lowest relative standard deviation (thus implying highest importance) are 3-cone and shuttle times, with 40 yard times being pretty similar as well. Obviously safeties for the Packers must have very good agility and flexibility, which is tested in the 3-cone and shuttle drills, most likely since being able to cover sideline to sideline is so important. Overall, safeties are usually just as fast as cornerbacks, but there is quite a bit more variation to their times, implying that while straight line speed is important, it may not be as important for a safety as it is for a cornerback.
As for specific skills, safeties are the last line of defense, and often play in deep coverage, as such they must be able to survey the entire field and correctly read offensive schemes. While cornerbacks are mainly coverage specialists, safeties are often called upon to play a significant part in the run defense as well. Specifically for the Packers, the safeties are the leaders of the secondary; its their job to relay the information given out by the middle linebacker (who has the radio to DC Dom Capers) and make sure that the secondary is lined up properly and on the same page.
Comparable cornerbacks in the 2011 draft (analysis taken from NFL.com):
Rahim Moore UCLA/6’0”/202 lbs/4.62 40-yard dash/ 6.98 3-cone/3.96 shuttle:
- Great awareness in zone coverage
- Good hand-eye coordination
- Willing tackler in run support
- Will not be able to cover slot receivers
- Over aggressive at times
- Lacks bulk
Mark Legree Appalachian State/6’0”/210 lbs/4.56 40-yard dash/6.9 3-cone/4.09shuttle
- Good awareness of the field
- Great ball skills
- Understands offensive schemes
- Will not be able to cover slot receivers
- Inconsistent in run support
- Struggles to shed blocks
Conclusion: Safety isn’t a major issue for the Packers this season, Nick Collins is a playmaker at free safety and Charlie Peprah was a surprise after rejoining the team. Waiting in the wings is Morgan Burnett, a 3rd round pick from last year who figures to be a future starting safety and maybe Charles Woodson, who could follow another Woodson (i.e. Rod) and make the transition late in his career; as I mentioned, speed doesn’t seem to be as vital for a safety as it is for a cornerback, and Woodson is turning 35; add to the fact that Woodson has shown that he can already play safety (since he has been lining up everywhere the last two seasons), so it’s a logical conclusion to see Woodson transition to safety to end his career.
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.